explanations of attachment: learning theory

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Explanations of attachment: learning theory

The learning theory proposes that all behaviour is learned rather than inborn- the blank slate principle

The learning theory is also known as ‘the cupboard love theory’ of attachment because it suggests that attachment is based on provisions of food alone  

Classical conditioning

Learning through association

Ivan Pavlov- salivating reflex in dogs

  • Recorded how much a dog salivated when presented with food- salivated before they were fed, salivated when they heard the sound of the door signalling the arrival of food = learnt through association

Before conditioning

During conditioning

After conditioning

Unconditioned stimulus (UCS) produces an unconditioned reflex (UCR)

Conditioned stimulus is paired with the unconditional response

Conditioned stimulus (CS) produced conditioned response (CR)

Food (UCS) makes the dog salivate (UCR)

Food and door opening occur together a number of times

Door opening (CS) makes the dog salivate (now a CR)


  • The same principles can be applied to attachment



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